When I left Arlington to go snowboarding at Snowshoe with my friend (a skier) in late February, it had rained there the previous weekend. And the resort had, to my horror, declared a moratorium on snowmaking. I was worried we’d be sailing a sea of crust and slush.
To my relieved surprise, the surface at Snowshoe was fairly decent -; groomed granular -; and it got better over the next three days, as more snow fell. Thanks to the natural snow and our midweek package deal, the trip was a not a bad value, and we had a good time on the slopes. But the resort has a lot of room for improvement in its services.
Key to your perception of Snowshoe is what you compare it to. This was my first trip to a mid-Atlantic resort in ten years, and I used to live in Vermont and Colorado. If you’re used to big resorts in New England or out west, the runs at Snowshoe will leave you underwhelmed. But for the mid-Atlantic, I’m told they’re at least average in size. And Snowshoe is much cheaper than resorts in other regions.
But there seems to be quite a bit of hyperbole in the mid-Atlantic about Snowshoe. Although the rain didn’t ruin the slopes, as I’d feared, they weren’t the knee-deep powderfests one might expect. Most of the surface was groomed granular, with a couple of inches of powder when it snowed. Not spectacular, but perfectly adequate, especially for the price. All told, I paid less than $300 for three days of snowboarding, including slopeside lodging for three nights and board rental.
What did bother me and my friend was a host of little annoyances. Only when I went to pick up my snowboard package did they bother to tell me the standard three-day rental ($98) is for step-in bindings only. (No word of this on the website or in the brochures.) To get strap-ins, you have to upgrade to a high-performance demo. On top of the extra $7, they charge you a $3/day “damage waiver.” Again, no mention of this in the website or brochures, even though they bother to point out the sales tax. The damage waiver is in itself forcing customers to pay for what has always been a business cost, but if they’re going to make you pay it, they should tell you before you show up. My rental ended up running me $120.84 for three days. The equipment itself (Burton everything) was high quality, but I wonder if a better deal could be had in some of the shops on WV 66 west, just outside the resort. My friend was disappointed with his skis, which hadn’t been tuned.
Then there were the lifts. Only the two newest lifts have the little t-bar footrests that save your knees. This was more of an issue for my friend, with his heavy ski boots. And at Silver Creek, the lifties didn’t bother brushing the snow off the seats, so we almost slid off while trying to get on. And be prepared: 90 percent of the lifties play country music on the PA system.
Snowshoe has several restaurants, yet on Tuesday night, getting something to eat after 7 p.m. was an ordeal of almost comic proportions. According to the resort, Rosa’s Mexican Cantina was open for dinner. We took a bus there from our lodge, only to find the place closes at 3 p.m. on weekdays. The bus driver didn’t bother to tell us this, even though he knew where we were going. (We later discovered we didn’t miss much, as Rosa’s evidently makes heavy use of the microwave -; culinary heresy to us native Texans.) We went back and found the Foxfire Grille had a 45-minute wait. Then the girl at the pizza place told us they had run out of dough, and so -; no joke -; they were closing. (When I told her I made my own dough at home, she looked at me as if I’d said I could turn lead into gold.) We found the $20 Italian buffet closed as well. Irritated and ravenous, we finally settled on the Junction, where we paid $12 for super nachos -; very tasty but a little steep.
The eating situation highlights a major difference between Snowshoe and, say, Steamboat or Killington. There is no nearby ski town with a host of dining options. The resort is the only game, and the prices and selection reflect the lack of competition.
In Snowshoe’s defense, the food was pretty tasty. And I’m told other mid-Atlantic restaurants usually just have a cafeteria, so Snowshoe is a gastronomic world’s fair compared to them. But the resort needs to do better at publishing accurate listings of when its eateries are open -; and teaching its pizza cooks about the miracle of yeast and flour. The lesson here: eat early and double-check all info.
Other annoyances: The hot tub closes at 9 p.m. The heater in our room at the Spruce Lodge made a clicking noise all night. Although there was never a line more than 10 seconds long for any lift, some runs became crowded in midday. There were almost no standing trail maps at the lifts, and some runs weren’t well marked.
We both had a great time in the Western Territory ripping down Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge (except for Lower Shay’s, which was covered with icy moguls), as well as some of the blue slopes. But it would’ve been nice to have more than two long, challenging runs for advanced skiers and riders. The abundant snowfall on our last two days helped conditions a great deal, although icy patches formed after the early morning. If you go to Snowshoe, the time to be on the slopes is early morning and up till closing time, when most people are heading inside.
This brings up another peculiarity of Snowshoe. It calls itself an “upside-down mountain” because all lodging, restaurants and services are at the top, not at the bottom. This means you must catch the lift back up before 4:30, when they stop. You thus end your day with a ride up the lift, rather than one last run down the mountain, and this left us feeling a bit cheated. It also means you have to take a bus to the Silver Creek area and walk across a road to get to the Western Territory. The bus has a rack for skis but not for snowboards, so riders must carry their gear aboard.
If you’re looking for a singles’ scene, you might look elsewhere or come on the weekend. Maybe it was because it was midweek, or maybe the other late-20- and early-30-somethings were waiting for Spring Break, but most of the other folks there were couples with kids. Not a problem for us, though; we were there for the snow.
One thing we were both glad of: We didn’t stay at the Inn at Snowshoe. It’s six miles from the resort and requires a bus ride to get there. Spruce Lodge is a bit noisy, but it’s right by the lift and has cable TV.
Overall, Snowshoe isn’t a bad deal if you go midweek and don’t mind the quirks I’ve mentioned. But I wonder if one might find an equally good value at Timberline or the Pennsylvania resorts. I suspect Snowshoe’s real advantage kicks in when the DC area is not getting natural snow; then Snowshoe’s snowmaking ability makes a difference. If you do decide to make the drive, try to bring your own equipment, double-check any information Snowshoe gives you about anything, and put any thoughts of Killington or Steamboat out of your mind. If you can do those things, you’ll have a good time at Snowshoe.
From Arlington, I took the resort’s directions: I-66 to I-81 to route 33 and then a series of small West Virginia routes. The weather was good, and even though there were many steep hairpin turns and a couple of massive mountains, this route worked fine. I made the 235 miles in just under five hours.
On the way back, there was ample snow and freezing rain. I was afraid route 33 would be icy or covered in snow. I took WV route 66 west to 219 south and then to I-64. Big mistake. This route ended up being 317 miles and, in bad weather, 6.5 hours. The one high point was passing the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck.
And by the way, there’s cheap gas to be had in Western VA, starting north of Harrisonburg!